Fall Flavors: Bulgur Pilaf with a Twist, and a GF Option

While you wouldn’t know it today, at 77 degrees and sunny, Fall has definitely been in the air lately, and I’ve been craving some real hearty cooking.  In an effort, however, not to totally overdose on delicious casserole type dishes (that are far too mixed up in the foods department for my daughter), I’ve been trying on some new dishes.  The other night we struck gold, with a totally surprising combination. Continue reading

Pantry Fare

Real foods are the best foods.   Well… okay I’m gonna say it.  Real foods are the only foods.  The other things are chemicals and synthetics that we’ve been convinced will satisfy us.  So there.  Even in the real food category, however, some are better than others.  While we could get into a lengthy discussion of nutrition benefits, I have to admit that the real foods that earn my highest praise are often those that are not only nutritious, but the most versatile.  Versatile real foods allow the greatest number of variations without too much skill building and are real pantry boons (especially if they are CHEAP).

And so, I return joyfully to my previous post on recalibrating our grocery bill.  Things are going pretty well in this department, and the pantry is finally thinning enough that I can see what’s in there and what’s not.  I can also feel out what we actually NEED based on how many times I look for something that is already gone.  Granted, I am no longer prepared in the event of a nuclear disaster as I was prior to attempting to ease up on the grocery mania, but we still could eat for a while out of that pantry….  Based on my experiments this week, I WILL make sure that I’m always stocked with bulgur and lentils.  I’ve continued playing with the lentil-bulgur mix and I’ve discovered a home run that is kid approved (yes, even the picky one).  It is also one of those lovely recipes that provides lots of opportunity for the less mature members of the family to participate in the cooking (I am talking about my children here, in case you were wondering if that was a jab at my wonderful and very mature husband).  I give you Mini Neatloaves. (Applause)

Mini Neatloaves – Served our family of 4 two dinners with 2 adult lunches left. Inspired by Confetti Mini-Meatloaf on Spark Recipes

  • 4c lentil-bulgur mix
  • 3c rolled oats
  • 1 med onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2/3c mushrooms ( I used reconstituted dried)
  • 2/3 c diced tomatoes (or tomato sauce – we had leftover pasta sauce to use up)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 t mustard powder
  • 2 t marjoram
  • 1T creaminess (milk, mayo, yogurt… whatever.. I needed this because I mixed in the remainder of the leftover lentil-bulgur taco mix and it needed some mellowing)
  • 3T Braggs or soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly oil two muffin tins – you can also use a loaf pan, but I’m just gonna tell you that’s not as fun.  If you’re making flax eggs, prepare them first so they have time to set up.  Put lentil-bulgur mix and oats in large bowl.  Put veggies in food processor and process until they are no longer distinguishable as individual bits to your pickiest eater (you may not need to be quite as thorough as I was on this front).  Add veggie slush to bowl.  Add spices and flax eggs and mix.  I added about of cup of leftover peas that were in my fridge.  (My two still love measuring so they helped a lot on this part).  Mix until well combined.

Recruit volunteers to fill muffin tins with neat loaf mix.  Bake in oven for about 25-30 minutes (Watch closely as we had little people crises and I’m not sure I got the time exactly right.)  If you make a loaf, you will need to cook it longer.  If you make one enormous meatball, you’d better make a lot of spaghetti.

I served ours on a bed of orzo (insurance), beet salad with orange dressing, and cucumber slices.  We got 100% approval rating and all parties ate more neat loaves than orzo.  The  younger crowd enjoyed theirs with a little ketchup (don’t judge).  Most everyone enjoyed the beets as well (she just doesn’t like beets, even with orange juice in the picture).

Absolutely delish.  Oh, and if you’re wondering about the dressing, it was simply an attempt to get my daughter to eat beets.  3T orange juice, 1T olive oil, small squeeze honey, pinch salt.  While it didn’t change my daughter’s mind about the beautiful beets that we grew and that she helped harvest from the garden, the rest of us enjoyed it, and found it especially yummy when it slid from our beets into our orzo and onto our cucumber slices.  Summer is fabulous. Hope yours is delish as well.

Recalibration

Whenever a friend asks me for advice about food (what are they thinking, right), my answers are pretty consistent. Read your labels, avoid processed food, less packaging is usually better, yes you have to cook, buy ingredients not meals, and for pete’s sake put down that soda. Great advice, and I follow almost all of it much of the time. This is the way with advice right? Right? Please tell me I’m not the only well-intended hypocrite out there. This week I’ve made a conscious effort to remind myself of the central mission that Big Sis and I adopted when we started this enterprise. Eat food, real food. Just food, not chemicals, not gimmicks, not time-savers, and not substitutes.

A few months back, I decided to cut meat and dairy from my diet most of the time (weekday vegan). For the most part I’ve been pretty successful at staying true to the eat food, real food tenants, but there has been some slippage as I’ve tried to replace food items that are near and dear to my palate and I’ve found myself sucked in by some items that definitely don’t honor the other part of our shared philosophy, which is that eating real food can be affordable. Due to my enthusiasm and sporadic attention, the grocery bill has become a bit of a monster. We haven’t talked about this much, but Big Sis and I both believe that it is possible to maintain your current budget, and in some cases even decrease your spending by replacing processed foods with real food. This belief doesn’t even begin to take into account the long term savings in health care and work lost to illness that healthier eating can provide – don’t worry, I’m not about to do any math here, although I am now tempted to Google to see if someone else has already done that math….. Stay on target. Stay on target.

beautiful, simple, inexpensive lentils

And so after paying the last month’s bills, I decided it was time for a bit of a recalibration. Time to remind my brain and my body that there are simpler ways to stay true to my dietary choices without breaking the bank. And so I whipped up an old friend, one that you should meet as well. Enter bulgur and lentils. These two humble (and CHEAP) ingredients can be manipulated into a variety of dishes on their own, but put them together and a world of possibilities opens up, particularly for those interested in replacing some meat based dishes in their recipe box. I stumbled upon this combo in The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn years ago. As a side note, if you are looking to shrink your expenditures and you come across a used, or better still a library copy of this book, you will find a wealth (hahahaha) of ideas on how to economize in just about every category of domestic life. At any rate, the recommendation here is to mix lentils and bulgur and cook them in water (2 water to 1 lentils and bulgur). This mix can then be used in essentially the same way that you would use ground meat. We used the ridiculously large amount that I made this week in veggie burgers and for a taco/burrito night. The bulgur-lentil mix performed beautifully in both of these areas. My son was particularly taken with his grainy beany tacos. I thought I’d share these simple, cheap, real food recipes with you, just in case you need to recalibrate too – or just in case you’re looking to save a little money and improve your family’s nutrition. Eat food, real food.

Lentil Bulgur Mixture – from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 4c water
  • 1c lentils (I used plain brown, super cheap, lentils)
  • 1c bulgur

Bring water to a boil, add lentils and bulgur and simmer for 45 minutes.  Do check and stir periodically as they will stick on the bottom, particularly if you over cook.  When finished, I turn off heat, leave cover on and let them steam a bit to make the bottom sticking phenomenon go away (works with rice too, by the way).  I doubled this recipe and we now have far more of this mixture than we can use in a reasonable amount of time.  I will try freezing, but remember that this is an expandy food when you make your own.  This mixture should be refrigerated once cooked.  Feel free to make the mixture ahead of time by a few days and save yourself some meal prep time.

happy little burgers waiting to go in the oven

Lentil Bulgur Burgers - adapted from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 2 c lentil-bulgur mixture
  • 2 c bread crumbs
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c chopped green pepper (opt.)
  • 4 T mixed herbs (I use bail, oregano and thyme)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 eggs (flax, soy, or chicken)
  • 2 T soy sauce or Bragg’s plus milk to make 1/2 c (I used almond)
  • 1/4 c sunflower seeds (opt., but I like the texture)

Preheat oven to 350 if you want to bake your burgers.  Mix the first six ingredients.  Add eggs and soy sauce/milk and mix well.  Stir in sunflower seeds.

amazingly yum and easy pretzel rolls

If you have time, chill for at least half and hour (I did it without the chill and it wasn’t a problem).  Form into patties.  Fry 10 minutes per side, or bake (on parchment or lightly greased cookie sheet) at 350 ten minutes per side.  The fried version has a more burger-like appearance, so if you’re looking to convince someone, that may be a better approach.  I find baking easier in process and for cleanup.  We served our burgers on these pretzel rolls from our friend Somer at Good Clean Food. Traditional burger toppings plus a little kimchi for me. Delish!

Lentil Bulgur Tacos

I must confess that I got a bit slapdash here, so I’m going to describe my procedure without measurements as I would be completely fabricating quantities any other way.   Saute chopped onion until soft.  Add minced garlic.  Add chili powder, cumin, and a little soy sauce or Bragg’s.  When fragrant, add enough lentil bulgur mixture to satisfy your crew.   Turn heat up a little if you’d like to get some browning on your taco filling.  Cook until flavors meld and all is warm.  Serve with taco shells or tortillas and fixings.

No chemicals, no gimmicks, little packaging, no “time savers” (although it really didn’t take long), and no weird factory substitutes.   Just food, real food.  Cheap and delish.

Some of My Good Days Look Like This… And Fabu Asian Peanut Sauce

We had a super busy day yesterday in mid-Maryland.  Evening plans and Father’s Day/my birthday on Sunday meant garden obligations had to be met in short order to allow festivities to be truly festive and to allow my neurotic soul to breathe easy and enjoy.  So as soon as breakfast was done (a big honkin’ kale smoothie made into a parfait with overnight oats – cause that’s just how I roll), I grabbed the lawn mower and got a move on.  The great thing about mowing around the garden is that it allows me to peek in and re-evaluate my plan of action.  I had originally planned to leave my broccoli and cauliflower alone as I wasn’t convinced they were done.  I had tomatoes to plant, preferably in the ground as my container tomatoes just don’t seem to do well.  I had basil to pot and various other things to plant, water, weed all in time for my 25th high school reunion (gulp, that sounds like a long time ago).

I quickly discerned that most of the broc and cauliflower were either spent or not budding (with 100 degree heat in the forecast, it seemed like time to give up).  I cleared those puppies out, planted a few new cucumbers and a tomato.  Dug up my ornamental fennel that a dear friend sent me seeds for from her plant in Michigan (i had thought it was edible so put it in the veggie garden – that’s a big plant for no eating in the veggie garden, but lovely and so yum smelling). “Mom…. a snake!”  Ran to children.  Observed large rat snake leaving patio, down retaining wall into woods.  Back to garden.  In went the watermelon.  Husband (pack mule) brought soil and compost to required location and did the part of the mowing that makes my knees go all wing-wangy.  Soil and compost piled in sunny spot, tomato planted.  Carrots pulled, beets pulled, raspberries picked (and eaten –  who could resist?!).  Dig, dig, dig, Hunh?

 Turtle in garden.  Shell completely closed.  Husband transported turtle to patio for warming.  Turtle slowly gained courage and eventually crawled away.  Weeds removed, basil planted, zucchini checked for mildew.  Japanese beetles on raspberry canes squished (without remorse).  Garden haul gathered and taken to kitchen.  Fresh carrot munched while removing leaves from 8 broc/cauliflower plants (rinse, wrap in cool wet and slip in plastic bag then fridge), beets same, carrots same.  Second fridge full.  Warmed leftover bulgur and added freshly harvested (raw) broccoli so it warmed and got the tiniest bit tender.  Stirred in homemade Asian peanut sauce from container in fridge.  Deeeeelish.  Shower.  Actually used a blowdryer – yes, a special occasion indeed.  Met friends, dropped off kids.

Reunion.  Such fun.  Hugs.  Fabulous old (and by that I mean young, vibrant, and absolutely wonderful) friends.  Stories.  Hugs.  Dinner. Cake. Wine. Bed.

Just about perfect.  Hope you are all enjoying a fabulous weekend.

Fabu Asian Peanut Sauce

  • Two large glops of peanut butter
  • A few shakes of soy or Bragg’s (to taste)
  • red chili flakes (or chili paste)
  • crushed garlic
  • minced/crushed/or powdered ginger
  • chopped cilantro
  • water

This is a wonderful sauce in that it is highly adaptable and easy to adjust for different tastes and uses.  I usually don’t measure (shocker, I know), start with the PB, and add the other ingredients to taste (which means I get to eat it while I’m making it, which is obviously a good thing).  Most of the ingredients are optional or could be changed out, but I find this combo to be the most yum.  When I’ve mixed everything but the water to taste, I add enough water to make it suit my needs.  If it’s a drizzling sauce I add more water.  If I want to dip veggies in it, less water.  It keeps beautifully and adds a lovely Asian peanut vibe to just about anything you might want to eat.  Great on noodles, fabulous on broccoli…. especially broccoli you’ve just brought in from the garden.